Friday, July 25, 2014

Lynx Prairie

Adams County, Ohio, is a low-populated southern county that lies along the Ohio River. At first glance, Adams County has a mix of Appalachia Ohio and farmland Ohio, but a closer look reveals just how unique this county is. The Bluegrass Region of northern Kentucky just reaches across the border and into Adams Co. and a few of the other surrounding counties. This triangular-shaped region holds many plants that are more typically found in the southern US or the Appalachian Mountains. Many of these plant species are rare or uncommon here, as one would expect. Adams Co. also holds a type of rare prairie ecosystem called cedar glades which are xeric (dry) limestone prairies. This ecosystem is also known as a pocket prairie due to reasons you will soon see. This post will cover one of the best examples of cedar glades in the state, the famous Lynx Prairie.

Just warning you now, this is going to be a really long post because not only do I love this preserve, but its history, geology, and flora are simply too incredible to ignore.

Lynx Prairie is a public nature preserve that is a part of the greater Edge of Appalachia Preserve owned by The Nature Conservancy. This preserve is located right outside of the very tiny village of Lynx, OH. Since the last time I've been down, the Nature Conservancy has changed the preserve a bit. There's now a new entrance on Cline Rd. complete with their own parking lot, and a new trail that leads to the other trails from that parking lot. Previously (and you still can), one would park at a small church off Tulip Rd. and walk through the cemetery shown above. The new directions can be found on the Nature Conservancy's page for Lynx Prairie located here.

Lynx Prairie
We weren't aware of the new entrance (we actually got lost and stumbled upon it by accident), so we did the usual park at the church, walk to the cemetery, and appear at the entrance pictured above. On our visit it was going between sprinkling and outright raining with short periods of nothing in between. As a result I ended up using my small Canon point-and-shoot to take many of these photos. I wasn't overly happy with the results (many were washed out), but they're better than nothing. Anyway, on to the preserve itself...

Lynx Prairie Adams County
After entering, you find yourself on a small trail winding through a typical forest of the area. But wait a minute, you might ask. This is called Lynx Prairie. Where's the tall grasses? The wide open spaces? Well, these prairies are a bit different than your average prairie.

Cedar Glade
The North Prairie, my personal favorite in Lynx Prairie. Purple Coneflower, Gray-Headed Coneflower, Scaly Blazingstar, and Self-Heal are among the grasses. Look for Shooting Star, a showy wildflower, in this opening in late Spring and early Summer.
As you round a corner on the trail, the forest melts away and you suddenly find yourself in an open space; however, this still doesn't look like the prairies most people think of. Before I get into the specifics of the Lynx Prairie complex, let me go over the three broad types of prairies. There are tall grass prairies, mixed grass prairies, and short grass prairies. Tall grass prairies are normally 5-7 feet tall and occasionally reach heights approaching 10 feet. The prairies at Lynx are short grass prairies, but are not overly like the normal short grass prairies of the West.

Cedar Glade Ohio
Part of the extensive Elizabeth's Prairie, the largest at Lynx Prairie.
Lynx Prairie is made up of a system of 10 xeric limestone prairies. The prairie openings are many times small areas in a large region of forest. This characteristic has given rise to the name "pocket prairie" to describe the small openings. Some of these pocket prairies can be quite small while others are the size of an acre or so. The photo above shows one of the larger ones.

Peebles Dolomite
So what causes these pocket prairies to form? The answer lies in the photo above. That rock ledge is made of Peebles Dolomite, a type of sedimentary rock from the Silurian Period (443.4–419.2 million years ago). Most of the times the bedrock in Ohio is many feet underground which allows trees to take root and grow. However, in certain places of Adams Co., as in the case of Lynx Prairie, this Peebles Dolomite bedrock actually comes within 4 or so inches of the surface or even breaks the surface itself. This creates a shallow, harsh soil layer. As a result, most trees cannot take root and other short plant species take over. It's worth noting that the name "cedar glade" comes from the fact that Eastern Red Cedars can many times find a small crack in the bedrock and take root, and many times this leads to some of the only trees in the actual glades.

Cedar Glade Soil
The photo above shows just how harsh the soil is. Pebbles are everywhere in the orange-red alkaline (pH of 8.5+) soil. This poor soil has a lack of nutrients and ends up being very dry due to the water evaporating quickly, which is why this is also called a xeric (or dry) limestone prairie. These factors make it very hard for plants to grow and thrive, and as a result many unique plants have evolved to be able to cope with such a harsh environment. It is thought these pocket prairies in Adams County are older than the last glaciation which ended about 10,000 years ago. As a result, plants have had a lot of time to evolve adaptions for this environment. Many of these plants are rare as they can only be found in cedar glades, which are rare to begin with.

Smooth Cliffbrake, Pellaea glabella
While I'm on the subject of Peebles Dolomite and its effects on the prairies, I want to go over one of the more interesting plants I found growing on Annette's Rock, a good size boulder of Peebles Dolomite in one of the larger prairies. This interesting bluish-green plant is Smooth Cliffbrake, Pellaea glabella. Smooth Cliffbrake - which gains its name from its smooth, not hairy, stem - is actually a species of fern, although it doesn't overly look like a stereotypical fern. This species is epipetric, which means it grows on rocks (as you can see). Smooth Cliffbrake isn't overly a common species here, as it's only been recorded in about 20 counties. It grows on well-weathered limestone, so it is limited to exposed ledges, cliffs, boulders, and the like.

As many of you probably know, wildfires can be a good, even necessary, event for many various habitats. These pocket prairies are no different. Slowly, the woody plants of the surrounding forest begin to gain footholds on the edges and erode the bedrock; this is normal succession. Given enough time, these prairies will shrink and shrink as cedar trees do their work and the forest moves in. So, why hasn't that happened in the past 10,000 years? The simple answer is fire.

Lynx Prairie Edge of Appalachia
The North entrance of Elizabeth's Prairie. Look for Annette's Rock (not pictured) in this prairie. Notice the shrubs/small trees on the left boundary.
Here's the kicker; there's a lot of evidence that these fires weren't started by a random act of nature like a lightning strike. Most of the evidence points to Native Americans as the fire starters. Across the globe humans use controlled burns to help shape the land the way they want it. The Native Americans were no different. By burning the prairies, they preserved the prairies and kept the forest from eventually taking over. As some of you birders or hikers might have noticed before, there's a higher biodiversity in the edge between two habitats. This is called the Edge Effect. By preserving this boundary, Native Americans increased biodiversity and gave large mammals such as deer, elk, and bison good foraging locations. This of course helped the Native Americans as there was more game available for food. Native Americans didn't just burn prairies; there's evidence that they essentially burned every type of habitat in this region of the Midwest. Burning not only helped with hunting, but also helped with pest control, crop management, and also helped clear routes used for travel (as shrubby growth along the trails would give bears, cougars, and the like a place to hide). Nowadays The Nature Conservancy will burn the prairies every so often, as well as removing woody plants by hand.

Lynx Prairie Edge of Appalachia
At Lynx Prairie, the trails are set up into three loops built on each other. The trails will take you through the forest and into the prairies. The forest is very open in many places, like in the photo above. Oaks dominate most of the forest, but there are also Virginia Pines, Tuliptrees, and assorted other species.

American Bluehearts, Buchnera americana
Of course, Lynx Prairie is filled with wildflowers. The one shown above is the threatened American Bluehearts, Buchnera americana. Other wildflowers found at Lynx include Green Milkweed, Butterflyweed, Scaly Blazingstar, Shooting Star, Garden Phlox, Pale-Spiked Lobelia, Prairie Dock, Gray-Headed Coneflower, Purple Coneflower, Rattlesnake Master, Rose Pink, Self Heal, a few ladies' tresses orchids, Western Sunflower, Whorled Rosinweed, Crested Coralroot, and many, many more. I'll be covering a few of these species in my next post, so stay tuned!

Chasmanthium latifolium
There are many grasses that call Lynx Prairie home. Big Bluestem, Little Bluestem, and Indian Grass are the main species. However, the patch of grass above caught my eye. I came across this patch in a more forested part of the preserve. Upon taking a closer look I was met with a familiar sight...

Chasmanthium latifolium
At the ends of the grass were these flat, attractive spikelets. I knew I had seen these somewhere previously, and it suddenly clicked that this species grows out in the front flowerbed of my mom's house. It turns out that this is Woodoats (also known as Inland Sea Oats), Chasmanthium latifolium. Woodoat is actually a southern species of grass with its northern range lying in southwest Ohio. It's only been recorded in about 9 counties here, which makes it an uncommon/rare plant in Ohio. However, it can be locally abundant where it is found, as is the case at Lynx Prairie. It can be found in moist, shaded woodlands (as in the case of Lynx Prairie) and the likes.

Lynx Prairie
As I mentioned before, there are three loops at Lynx Prairie that one can hike. This is a new, updated map of the preserve that shows the new parking area along Cline Road that was completed in 2014, as well as the new connecter path from the parking lot to the red, white, and green loops. There are a total of 1.3 miles of trails currently.

Lynx Prairie in Adams County is one of the natural gems of Ohio. Containing a system of rare cedar glades, there have been over 600 plant species recorded on the preserve, many of which are rare. This preserve is so significant that it was designated as a National Natural Landmark by the National Park Service in 1967. If you are at all interested, I highly suggest that you take a trip to this preserve. You will not regret it.

4 comments:

  1. Kyle, I grew up in Brown County (right next door to Adams County). I live in Virginia now, but just came back from visiting my mom back in Brown County. My husband and I hiked Buzzardroost, Wilderness Preserve Trail, and Joan Jones Portman Trail. We had one day left in Ohio and I was torn about whether or not to spend it hiking. I came across this post & the one on Adams County wildflowers. Just had to go check out Lynx Prairie. Loved it so much! Just wanted you to know that you inspired us to do one more hike. Look forward to following your blog and to getting ideas for more hikes in Ohio. Thanks!

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    1. Thank you so much for the kind words!

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  2. Once again great in depth post, looking forward to reading more when I get the time.

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